Muslim Evangelism (Part 1)
Discussion about effective models for Muslim evangelism hath no shortage of opinion. For many years now, debates have raged in missiological circles about the how and what of evangelism to Muslims. How should we go about communicating the gospel to Muslim peoples? What should we say to them? Should our evangelism mention anything of Jesus being the Son of God, something so deeply offensive to Muslims?
During my college years, the cross-cultural friendship evangelism model was drilled into my head ad nauseum. This was usually through indirect methods but it came to have a real impact on me. “This must be the way to do it,” I thought at the time. “Gossiping the gospel.” On the face of it, it is hard to argue with. Work on establishing a solid friendship with a Muslim and then when the time is right, share the gospel in a contextually sensitive way. To me it seemed like a good method because in my mind, what I will call the confrontational approach, didn’t seem to get very far with Muslims. Besides, you want the person to know that you really do love them whether they become a Christian or not.
Then I read a book called The Messenger The Message The Community by Roland Müller and it had an indelible impact on my thinking. Let me share, in brief, what Müller taught me.
In the book Müller wastes no time in showing the deficiencies of friendship evangelism as he explains the dilemma of friendship evangelists:
Having built a good friendship, they feel that if they now share the Gospel they will betray the friendship. It’s as though they’ve used these people, befriended them for a reason, and now months or years later the reason becomes clear. These are the good situations. In some of the poorer ones the workers, having discovered the difficulties, have resigned themselves to the fact that their lives will have to reveal the Gospel as they are never going to get around to have a good talk about it. (p.23)
This critique is startling for a number of reasons. First, the clearness with which Müller explains the pragmatic problems presented by the method are something many of us can relate too (I know I can), whether in friendship to a Muslim or just a non-believing friend in the United States. Second, when one stops to consider how broadly the friendship evangelism approach is used as a missiological strategy in Muslim contexts, it is heart breaking to consider that a number of missionaries to Muslims feel relegated to “just” living out their faith without ever explaining the gospel verbally.
Besides facing inner turmoil when practicing friendship evangelism, there seem to be other problems with the method. For one, it seems to be disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. Is there truly anything Christ-like about entering a friendship based on deceitful premises? Additionally, if your aim of becoming someone’s friend is to share the gospel with them at a later date, you will likely fall short of experiencing a true friendship. How “real” can a friendship be if one participant does not know the guiding principles of the other friend’s life? Second, the desire to practice friendship evangelism seems to cater to the dark part of the human heart that wants to be comfortable and minimize personal risk in evangelism. Perhaps we should take Jesus at his word when he says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:24-25). Being disliked for the sake of sharing the gospel just comes with the territory. Finally, from a pragmatic standpoint as Müller notes, nobody is going around talking about how “friendship evangelists” are setting the world ablaze. He observes that in all of his work on various Muslim mission fields, those who adopt a missiological approach of friendship evangelism are simply not succeeding. It just does not work, for a number of biblical and contextual reasons.
Now lest someone misunderstand what I have said above, I am not in any way saying that we should not work in our contexts to love Muslims in tangible ways. Nor am I saying that we should neglect to build real friendships with Muslims where this is possible. Again, a real friendship means sharing the entirety of who you are with someone and if you are a Christian, a major part of who you are is the triune God. We should not shy away from discussing Him from the very outset of our friendships.
At this point, given the above critique of friendship evangelism, some want to know what a better way of Muslim evangelism happens to be. I am glad you want to know because I believe there is an answer to this curiosity. However, you will have to wait a couple weeks to read Müller’s solution; one that I strongly agree with.